J.W. Kennedy and The Veterans Pledge

It happens every week across our country.  The Rotary club president calls the meeting to order and asks one member to lead in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Certainly,” comes the response.  “I pledge allegiance, to the flag…” and members drone on in a monotone until concluding with “for liberty and justice for all.”

That changed when the president of the Winnfield club called on past president (1972) J.W. Kennedy, to lead the Pledge.

In his quiet but confidently graveled voice, he invited the members, “Won’t you please join me in pledging allegiance to the flag of our country?”

It was a simple invitation but one underscored with a powerfully patriotic message:  “I’m going to pledge my allegiance to the flag of my great country.  Will you please come along with me?”

This invitation would have carried some weight just because of Kennedy’s longtime service to the community, first as a photographer with his own studio but more likely remembered for his 43 years as the State Farm Insurance agent in Winnfield.

But the inward rally cry to join in his invitation came from knowing that Kennedy was a World War II veteran, a member of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion that took part June 19, 1944, in the second wave landing on Utah Beach in Normandy, France.

“While I was in England preparing for the invasion of Europe, I was in Headquarters Company, assigned with the message center.  We trained to place and maintain telephone lines through any type of weather and terrain, night or day.”

Kennedy said that off-duty he met and agreed to spar box with a Native American who said he was the heavyweight Golden Gloves champion of Oklahoma.  They called him “Chief.”  Every morning the pair would box until reveille. 

“When we were loaded into the LST (Landing Ship, Tank) to go to France, Chief and I were together with other members of the 300th Combat Engineers.  The channel crossing was crowded and rough due to a severe squall.”

He did not reach the beach that day.  LST 523 was transporting  American soldiers from England to France and struck a submerged German mine just offshore.  The explosion ripped the ship in half and casualties were tremendous. 

Kennedy had a six-inch head wound and his legs were disabled.  “I couldn’t stand and there was so much blood in my eyes that I couldn’t see to climb a ladder to the deck.  Chief said, ‘Kennedy’s hit.  Let’s get him out.’  He pushed me up the ladder and someone else lowered me into a small boat.  I must have passed out because I did not hear or see anything until I was on a cot stretcher above a jeep.  I remember nothing of the ride to the hospital.”

When he regained consciousness in the English hospital, he was bandaged and recalls someone saying, ‘Your war is over, son.’  Kennedy decided he’d have none of that and determined he’d somehow make his way back to his outfit.  “I was discharged after 9 or 10 days with many packages of Sulfa drug to continuously redress my head would.  I was placed on a tugboat for the 10-hour crossing back to France.”

He then reported to the replacement depot where he was told he’d be “assigned as needed.”  But on the second day as he watched traffic on the road, he spotted a 300th Engineers truck.  So late that evening, he “snuck out” and flagged down the driver and went with him to C Company.  Company officers seemed to want Kennedy’s service since they were undermanned.  The major worked to clear him of AWOL charges.

“I was assigned to various jobs until we arrived in Belgium.  By that time, Maj. Crandall had finally cleared me of those AWOL charges.  I next went to Spa, Belgium, significant to the Battle of the Bulge where C Company saw tough action.  There I was cross-trained as a radio operator.  I remained with C Company until the end of World War II.

Veterans like this witnessed the death and determination required before the American flag could be raised on combative soils in the quest for freedom.  So it may be no surprise to see their chests swell a little bit more than the rest of us when they salute the flag of their country.  They understand the blood that’s backed it up.

James W. Kennedy Jr. passed away June 30, 2010, some 66 years after that epic landing at Normandy.  He, like so many other members of The Greatest Generation, gave more for our nation than we can repay.

He asked us only, “Won’t you please join me in pledging allegiance to the flag of our country.”  Let’s respect that invitation as we consider the words that we repeat and the men and women who gave so much that our flag could still be standing.  And let’s not take for granted the freedoms they fought so hard to preserve.

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”